Pathways Of Foreboding Chapter Six
From Person To Person...
By Paul Nathans
It was long into the night before the group was done swapping stories. Once more over the Clenseria Mountains, they swapped tails. Each had surprises, some things tied together, the Shinra being placed on emergency alert coincided with shortly after the new WEAPONS were loosed upon the Planet.
Red XIII, Tifa, and Vincent hadn't picked up what had happened to Cloud when he was gone from the ship the day of the rescue, and Tifa was delighted when she found out, and at what she found out. Which meant that the Jenova-Illusions were just a bunch of things causing grief. Both had been annihilated.
They'd all shared a nice meal, and now Reeve was making a comment to Cid about how well he kept his Airship tidy.
"I think I'll check it out, make sure none of those blockheads rearranged this thing," answered the Ex-Astronaut.
"Uh-oh," muttered Yuffie, who had noticed the changes to the Highwind upon boarding. Cid, however, hadn't yet. Since the Airship wasn't moving, her stomach wasn't complaining, so she headed off to do one of her other favorite things besides playing with Materia and performing fast-action
scaling treacherous places. She'd be hanging from the bottom of the Highwind with one foot before the Airship began moving again, of that, she was quite certain. And, no one questioned her departure.
"So what do we do now?" asked Barret. "Unless all of the WEAPONS are in places we can access, we can't open season on those cyborg psychos."
"I wonder if we could breed a Fish-Like Chocobo, or use the Underwater Materia to swim underwater," mused Cloud. "Still, I'm against looking for trouble unless its something that is directly connected to Sephiroth, Jenova, Meteor, or Shinra."
"Heh heh," chuckled Barret. "So that means I do get to destroy the Election Board, or however many they have."
"Marlene, Barret," reminded Tifa. "Don't forget your daughter."
"I didn't forget. I'm visiting her!"
"Then we return to Midgar again?" asked Reeve. His Cait Sith unit sat in the corner, shut down.
"Mebbe'," responded Barret.
Seconds later a familiar shriek ripped through the air. Tifa snapped into immense concentration, and Cloud sucked in a breath as he once again felt the shriek reverberate through every fiber of his body.
"Faces " Tifa gasped. "Aeris said, I had to do better than this!"
Cloud distinctly remembered her giving them all lessons in attempting to communicate with the Planet.
"What?" she questioned. "Confusion?" Her eyes widened, and though she was staring straight at him, she appeared to be looking at something else, just as the cries faded away.
"Tifa?" gasped Cloud, standing up.
"Its not supposed to be here," she began to hyperventilate. "It can't only Materia can produce I remember Sephiroth saying there was no true mag Gongaga what?" She sucked in more air, then snapped free. "Its no use," she moaned. "I'm no Cetra."
"Then let's just settle this an easy way," said Cloud, smiling. "We go to Gongaga, upon morning."
"Marlene first!" snapped Barret.
"Of course," answered Cloud, nodding his head.
Barret knocked on the door, awaiting an answer.
The previous night had become noisy when Cid had noticed what had happened to his ship. His Crew were still annoyed he was upset they did what was right, and Barret nearly had to punch the Ex-Pilot before he realized what they had been doing, and why they had done it.
To further complicate matters, Yuffie had decided to act like a monkey, so the group had to retrieve her. Then there was the problem of trying to figure out what they were going to do with Priscilla. Thankfully, near the morning, her condition had stabilized, but she was still unconscious.
Elmyra answered the door, and flashed a welcoming smile.
"Marlene's been asking if you'd come back yet," she said. "She's beginning to act like Aeris, she said she could sense Holy being activated, and hear voices in the Planet. But she said you couldn't, yet you're her father. So she's got questions."
"Better late than never," he said quietly. "Let me see her."
Elmyra stepped out of the way and motioned for him to enter. "She's upstairs," was all she said before he strode in.
She turned to Cloud and Tifa, who had accompanied him to Kalm.
"Did you really protect her?" she asked in a quiet tone. She was still upset about Aeris, and must've needed to ask that question.
Cloud winced. "I I "
Elmyra's tone changed, and Tifa could see she'd barely managed to conceal how haggard she was.
"You said you'd protect her!" she snapped. "Her bodyguard, right! Well, you certainly did a good job at it!"
Cloud's look was once again distressed. He couldn't answer, and fought to control his emotions.
Elmyra managed to compose herself again. "I I'm sorry," she said, talking quietly again. "I didn't mean that. I just "
"No," Cloud said, hanging his head. "You're right."
He turned away and bolted.
"Cloud!" shouted Tifa. She raced after him again, barely managing to keep from screaming at Elmyra. Cloud had finally settled into his carefree mood again, at least, as close as he could get to one, and it had been ruined once more.
He'd only snapped out of his depression after Aeris had perished when the Shinra had arrived in the Crater. It had been replaced by his battle-ready mood as he realized he'd have to concentrate. Thankfully, it hadn't returned, because of what had happened afterwards.
And now he was facing it again.
"I dunno', Marlene," answered Barret.
The young girl had immediately given him her usual greeting, insisted on a few light tosses, then had babbled out what had happened the night Meteor was destroyed, the night it was supposed to have ended, for good.
"Can you do that?" she asked.
"No," he answered.
"What about Mom, then, huh?"
He sighed, composing himself. "As far as I know, Myrna couldn't either." Marlene looked confused at his change in tone. "And I doubt your parents did."
Marlene's mouth dropped. "HUH!!!!!?????"
"I didn't find out until the long time I was away, before I returned that one day to see you, to tell you about where I was headed. I never got a chance to tell you what I'd learned then, Marlene." He sighed once more. "I adopted you when you were supposedly orphaned as a baby. I thought both Dyne and Eleanor had perished, and didn't want to leave you alone."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"Dyne's your father, Eleanor's your mother."
"Then why are you also my daddy, and why haven't I seen my other daddy and my mommy?" Marlene got both questions out between breaths.
Barret sighed again.
"Eleanor had perished, the day I adopted you. Dyne nearly fell into a gorge, I grabbed onto him, and Shinra shot the hand I was holding him by off, as well as his hand. He fell, and I thought I thought he perished."
Marlene was obviously not understanding this, at least, not its intensity.
"Did he?" was the next question.
"I didn't know. At least, not until I returned to North Corel. He was too depressed to see you, he wouldn't listen to me. He " he swallowed again ," fell into another gorge, one much wider, and deeper, purposefully.
"He didn't survive."
The four-year-old tried to figure out what this meant, and, not getting the point, changed the subject. "So were any of them like Aeris?"
'She can understand part of that confusing Cetra Stuff but can't comprehend what I just told her?' He didn't say this, instead, he answered ,"I don't know."
Marlene sighed. "Maybe its because I have two daddies." Barret was about to try to explain again, when she began to talk again. "So what happened to that Sephiroth Person you told me about?"
Barret figured she'd probably only get the point about her parents when she wanted to know about it, so he dropped the subject and began answering her latest question, one that would undoubtedly lead to others.
She caught up with Cloud overlooking the river, chucking pebbles into it, some skipping along the water farther than usual, others not far, and sat down.
He turned to her. "Leave me alone," he whispered.
"Forget it, Cloud!" she answered. "I don't think you've had a day since the second time we watched the stars near here you've been on an emotional roller coaster! Its not healthy, I'm not just leaving you!"
"It didn't come back when we said goodbye at the forest near the Forgotten City, because it didn't occur to me just why it happened then," he replied. "I don't deserve to be with anyone, have any friends!"
"So you could've blocked Sephiroth's sword if you'd reacted faster!" she answered. "Would that have stopped him!?" Then she realized what he had just said.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Have I done anything that's endeared myself to others!?" he cried. Tears were beginning to form again. "I was never able to keep my promise to you, although I tried to make it up by doing nice things for you, I wasn't able to become some famous hero! Those were all Sephiroth's Illusions! I gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth, that summoned Meteor! We all escaped a Magical Apocalypse by a Hair's-Breadth, it was my fault! You nearly perished twice because of me! No, three times!?"
"So you think that none of us care for you?" Tifa's eyes were brimming again. Sick of the tears she'd been dealing with this week, she slapped them away. "And you've only been nice to me because of because of !!!!!"
She broke down, and Cloud realized what he'd said. He tried to open his mouth to say something, but she just ran. He gazed down at the water again, and let his arms dangle, his head suspended over the water. She was right, and it was too late to do anything about it. He prevented the tears from coming down his face, but missed a single one.
It fell, sparkling in the pure night sky, and landed in the water, seeming to shatter into thousands of tiny crystal fragments, sparkling, reflecting the light from the stars in small rainbows, carrying small ripples across the lake.
Standing amidst the reconstruction of the upper levels of the Shinra Building, President Kerek looked over his bright city. The other sections damaged by Meteor were under extensive repair, they'd borne the full brunt of everything but the firestorm as the white discus had attempted to shield the relentless comet from landing.
Although at the rate it was descending, stopping to destroy, it would've plowed into the Planet at a snail's pace, destroying, then tearing apart the Planet. It was a shame none in Shinra had realized that, they could've analyzed the thing, then probably halted it, and lowered it gently to the Planet. The energies they could've absorbed from the thing would have been stronger than any others they knew of.
"Sir," came the voice of Shreelin, Head of Weapons Development. "Unstable activities located near the remains of the Gongaga Reactor."
His right eyebrow rose, and he turned slowly, both hands clamped together behind his back. "Continue," he said.
"Something was unleashed from the place," she answered.
"Faulty RoboGuard Unit, no doubt," he concluded. "Is it on signal."
"Its easy to track, President. The thing can't be a RoboGuard, its patterns are too hectic, its place of emergence resembles the area that was crosswired into the patterns used in the Jenova Project. It certainly possesses those capabilities, and its energy levels are extreme. They've only been noticed in that White Lifestream-Discus Eruption in the Crater, Sephiroth, Jenova, and Meteor."
"Great," he muttered. "We do not need another Sephiroth-Like Being created out of Fake Cells matching the patterns of a destroyed creature. Such a beast could be unstable, and, as we know from Jenova's Reunion Theory, if Cloned Cells of her were created, and somehow brought to life " He broke off. "Well, that's why we're using WEAPON Cells now."
Shreelin was visibly nervous. "Its power levels equal that strange Supernova-Type Energy Wave we picked up for that one trillisecond from Junon." She sighed. "I wonder if its the same thing. If only it hadn't been a cloudy day then. Some of our Pilots swear they saw the Sun enlarge and nearly strike the Planet."
"The energy readings would then be placed above Sephiroth, but below Meteor." He sighed. "As much as experimentation on this thing could prove valuable to our Biological Institute, if it gains full sentience it could become an unwanted threat." He let out a small sigh. "Exterminate it."
"Its burrowing towards the Lifestream," came the answer.
"Then grab some Materia if you can, but no risks. The Company cannot afford another disaster in its current state. Send in a crew and terminate it, immediately."
"Yes, sir." Shreelin saluted, spun on her heel, and walked away.
Kenek turned around, staring out at the city again, then spoke quietly to himself.
"Hojo, if you hadn't already been eliminated by now, I'd be glad to do it myself."
The stars continued to pulsate in the night, glimmers descending throughout the universe. A silent plea from a dark hole in the planetary system penetrated outwards, unnoticed by most with ears, but sensed by something else in a dark corner of the universe. Sensed, and heard.
The being stirred. Nearby stars crackled and exploded at the stir of the creature. The creature had never heard pleas, had never stirred since the Pureland Gap had opened up, disrupting the fabric of the universe and tearing through several billion galaxies, demolishing them.
Yet this time it was more than a twitch. An eye began to open, the shockwave was sufficient to destroy nearly a trillion Galaxy Superclusters nearby. When it was fully open, the beast began to see. Flashes of memory, of thought, came to it.
Meteor, its creation. Its significance had never been discovered, the thing was invincible, it would come down upon its target, whether Planet, or even Galaxy, and destroy it. That way he could rest, unstirring, as the thing destroyed its targets. The being didn't want huge portions of the universe torn away with its every movement, and thus, slept, while its slaves guided Meteor in the destruction of what they knew was his will, near an insignificant planetary system.
That same planetary system, composed of twelve planets, flashed into his eye, and he saw what had happened, how someone else had tapped into the power of Meteor, and fashioned the Exceeding Black, later to be known as the Black Materia. How something had been created, descended to the planet to retrieve this thing, destroy it, how something
It tore through its awareness. A bright pearl in a sea of destruction, its light shone. An ancient race, becoming endangered, only a few thousand remaining. The Path of Spirits of the Planet had been poisoned, over a small span of years, at least, small to one such as he, the thing took place. All was vanquished, the two tearings of Pureland, the stir, which had caused nothing, only awareness to flicker from his dreams, and one million galaxies to evaporate, then, millenia later, its burst. He remembered his brief awareness.
And then Sephiroth. He could see him, could see the bring, could see how the misguided fool wielded his tool, restarting Meteor's inexorable pathway. Then the unthinkable happened.
As trillions upon trillions of Galaxy Superclusters were destroyed as he roared out, his attention was riveted upon the pearl. The Holy.
It was gone, because of the pearl, because of one being. It had caused him to stir, and as he began the slow motion of moving his hand, of creating another, and of snatching the poor soul who had caused the destruction of Meteor from a Lifestream or from the living, to give what would be the greatest known torture to the being, he saw the other events.
Planet Weapons could do nothing. If those slave fools forged any, they'd unleash a destructive force that would lock on the evil, lock on its blueprints. It would do so in such a way it could become something unthinkable. Only he would destroy, only his minions, not some wild being. Without destruction, nothing could live. Without total annihilation by his hands, everything would cease to exist. That was what his purpose was, his reason to live, his thoughts. Nevertheless, they should know what they were doing, he could destroy the thing if necessary.
But the plea hit him, and his dimming anger roared again. He didn't notice the Fatal Consequences it had for trillions more Galactic Superclusters, both then, and when he fell back into his sleep, the eye snapping shut.
But he had sent out a thought. His disrespectful slave would know the torture of allowing things to live now, the immense hatred and agony given by kindness.
She'd know the torture, it was the only kind for her nature.
Cloud sat up, sweat drenching his forehead.
That nightmare had been too real. He knew what it represented almost immediately, the being was Sephiroth, with its confused cause, looking down upon how he had been without knowledge of what he "really" was. Meteor and Holy had been shown on a grander scale, the Pureland, something he'd heard about in an ancient legend as a child, representing the ripple effect the Promised Land had on the Planet. Then there was Jenova and Aeris, and those who were side-line destroyers, yet really the main cause of the current problems, were the Shinra, the plea was the ray of hope AVALANCHE had given, and the tortures sent towards it were the fact that it would be near-impossible to completely take down the Corporation.
"The blood of the Ancients flows through my veins! I am one of the rightful heirs to this Planet!" The words he knew through the False Jenova Memories came back to him, and once again he looked back with pity upon how warped Sephiroth had become. He hadn't returned to the Airship to sleep until late, and hadn't expected this.
Only this was the answer.
It showed strange views, he could see them clearly, those memories from the tiny instant he'd merged with Sephiroth in the Crater when handing him the Black Materia, his own mind had thought up the dream, then forced him it. Grief was natural, but he'd conquered his Mind-Problems, there was no reason in extending them. That's what the part of "creating a new Meteor" meant. They all had a Meteor, he'd conquered his, only it wouldn't fully be conquered, like Shinra. He'd have to keep it away.
He was going to have to apologize to Tifa.
Still, he couldn't help but have a nagging feeling those two mysterious females seemed to be something real that Jenova knew, and his False Memories had inherited. He dismissed the nagging, though, not willing to let it become another problem.
Red XIII strode into the room.
"I see you're up," he said. "Shinra headed in the direction of Gongaga, so we're all prepped and ready to go."
"Oh." This was an annoying development.
"Bugenhagen would understand this, if anyone would." Nanaki sighed. "You think you've had an emotional downslide. You're not the only one. Its not just misguided people like Sephiroth in the struggle, its everyone. I remember an event like yours last night, when I was accused of letting my mother perish. I thought my depression had returned, it was just a shock that someone would accuse me of it."
"So that's why it passed so quickly," realized Cloud. "Why don't we just find Bugenhagen? He should be able to tell us what's going on in Gongaga."
Nanaki swallowed. "Cloud, there's something I neglected to mention." He swallowed again. "I changed it, actually. Bugenhagen he didn't give me a gift. He gave me a momento, before he " He bowed his head.
"I understand," said Cloud, flashing a small smile, attempting to cheer him up. "I guess we'll have to make up for it." He'd known this was probably what had happened all along, the warrior just hadn't wanted him to know.
"He was the greatest of the Cosmo Canyon Elders. He knew everything about the past, at least, as far back as when the Jenova struck the Northern Continent, even though he didn't know precisely what had happened at that point."
"So we find out what's happening at Gongaga ourselves," he stated.
"Right," said Red XIII. "I'll try to follow in his footsteps, if I can."
He turned around and, tail dragging, proceeded out the door, shutting it quietly behind him. Cloud sighed, realizing just how complicated things were about to become, then got up.
"So we're headed for Gongaga!?" said Cait Sith. Reeve was below deck, monitoring the Life-Support Equipment. If it was the best he could do, he'd make sure that the Shinra didn't have this young girl's life on their hands. If they hadn't existed, Priscilla might not have mistaken Cloud for a Shinra SOLDIER when they first met. He was going to make sure the young girl didn't get this ailment anymore. So he'd use his technological skills to help set up something to cure her, using Cait Sith as a communicator once more.
"That was the agreement," answered Cid.
Red XIII was silent, at least for now. He'd broken the news to the others at their meeting. As for Tifa, she remained away from the group, still upset about what had happened the previous night, obviously.
"I'm coming!" Nanaki spoke, shattering his silence. "You're not stopping me!"
"I'm coming, too," put in Cloud. "I prefer to lend as much help as I can!"
"Who else?" asked Red XIII. "We'll want to be ready before the Highwind heads towards our newest destination!"
Tifa spoke up. "I've given up on trying what Aeris was teaching me, but I'm still curious as to what's in Gongaga. I'd like to find out!"
"Then its settled," spoke Nanaki, an air of finality in his tone. "Let's go!"
That was the shaking began. Even at their altitude, hovering above the ocean, they could hear it. They were just north of Gongaga, and could see a portion of the water begin to bubble upwards, huge waves cascading out in directions, rising higher and higher.
Something began to rise, letting out a thunderous roar, water dripping down its body. It was soon above the water, and roared again, before beginning a slow, yet determined, stride towards the Gongaga Jungle.
"Pearl Weapon!" swore Cid, looking over the railing. They had been holding the meeting above deck, and could see the colossus as clearly as he could. It flexed its large claws, coming out of Alexander-Like Arms, and strode forward, its gleaming legs and knee-spikes reflecting the Morning Sunlight, while the Alexander-Like Sections on its body seemed to capture some of the rays.
"Why is it that when things get complicated, they get very dangerous?" groaned Yuffie. "Blasted WEAPONS!"
"I see our visit to Gongaga has temporarily been delayed," stated Nanaki.
"What?" gasped Cid. "You've gotta' be kidding! Going head-to-head with Diamond Weapon didn't do anything but stun the beast, and only for seconds! The Ultimate Weapon was as much of a pain! The two WEAPONS we faced to the end that were larger than Ultimate Weapon were practically INVINCIBLE!!!!!"
"So we're just going to stand by while that beast takes innocent lives?" Nanaki's inquiry bore a clear undertone of sarcasm. "I think not!"
"If we did it once, we can do it again!" finished Cloud. "Set us down in front of that thing! Emergency Materia Exchange! Someone in the fighting group needs the Knights of the Round Materia that was born from the original! We don't know how much that thing is going to be able to take!"
"Fine," muttered Cid. "Exchange! Let's move!"
Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII were dropped off halfway between Gongaga Jungle and the Southern Shore, while the Highwind pulled back away, and those on board, with the exception of those in the Hospital, scrambled to any Turret Controls on the Airship. The Pearl Weapon, its Alexander-Face in its Midsection pausing every once in a while to let out another roar, would be nearby shortly.
It was very easy for them to position themselves in front of the great, lumbering beasts. The thing would be upon them shortly.
Cloud's PHS had been left online, and Cid's voice came crackling over it. "Highwind is in position! Give the signal when you're ready to initiate combat!"
Cloud watched. The thing was so close to them they had to be in its line of sight very shortly. With one movement of its foot, any of them could be crushed.
The WEAPON stopped, noticing them for the first time, right in front of them. It roared, moved into a battle stance
Cloud pressed a sequence of buttons on the PHS, the signal the group had set up for the Ground Team to tell the Airship the WEAPON had noticed them
and the battle began
"In formation!" snapped Cloud.
Red XIII flanked his left, Tifa, his right, and he whipped out the Ultima Weapon, brandishing it. The thing seemed to roll its eyes at the sight of the tiny gnats, the thought of the beast doing this was almost comical.
Tifa sent up a Regen, followed by a Shield.
"Come on," motioned Cloud, saying it at the same time.
The WEAPON reared up and swung its hands in a rapid series of slashes. The impact of the claws seemed to be considerably more painful than the sharpness of them, but he managed to take the brunt with his sword. Red XIII rolled forward as another claw slammed down into the ground, causing a ripple effect that sent the two other combatants sprawling.
"Try that again, big, bad, and ugly!" taunted Nanaki. In response, the cyborg section of the lumbering behemoth was clearly seen as its head moved upwards, smoothly unattaching from where it had been placed, revealing the common red orb all WEAPONS they had seen possessed somewhere on their body. It glowed, and sent out wavering balls and electric energies followed by torrents of beams, each exploding in a dome-like blast of light.
Cloud's Command Counter Materia glowed, and it hooked onto his Master Command, which in turn powered his sword. He launched into a FatalBlow Attack, and managed to guide his limbs into performing a rapid series of slashes. Aided by the 4x-Cut of his Double Cut Materia, he was able to deliver a large amount of blows, his limbs moving four times their usual speed. The head snapped down, and he was slammed backwards by one of the knee-spikes. Huge missiles were launched from the thing's shoulders, coming down in another torrent.
Tifa was kicked in the neck by one of the feet, she flew backwards, landing in a head, her Shield Spell barely holding. She was up again, launching into her Septet Limit Combo. The monster busied itself by blocking the attacks with its hands and feet, giving Cloud the chance to nail it with a couple of well-placed Ultimas. It staggered backwards, and the Highwind swooped in, unleashing a volley of missiles. The thing roared and slapped at it, leaving an opening for Tifa's Final Heaven, which nearly caused the huge thing to collapse.
It used its huge arms to flip backwards, and its head settled back into place. Another missile volley was unleashed, and the sections between its jutting areas glowed, then unleashed a group of blasts that quickly shaped into undulating pathways of destruction. Red XIII was the only one damaged, and responded with a Cosmo Memory, causing the thing to stagger again.
"Shield!" shouted Tifa, up and at the business of setting up defenses again. She added a Cure 3, in case the Regen wouldn't close Nanaki's wounds fast enough to prevent him from taking damage from a blow that could come before the Shields repaired themselves.
Immediately catching onto what she was doing, he slammed his left leg down on the hand that wielded the Premium Heart. She shrieked as the Magic from the Materias she wore were cut off.
"No you don't!" Cloud snapped, beginning an Omnislash, using its concentrated energies to aim for some of the more vulnerable portions of the beast. He chipped off section after section of its arms, landing with his Finishing Blow at the things face before throwing himself to the ground, a split-second before the inbred ability settled down again, which would've meant a broken leg, or worse.
As the section of the leg pinning Tifa wore off, she attempted to remove her arm. She screamed, realizing it was broken, and gasped as the foot began to ascend. Cloud threw himself into a roll, grabbing her and pulling her out of the way, nearly being crushed himself by the descending foot. He took the liberty of starting an Ultima there, and it blasted outwards, flinging the huge beast backwards in a flip as its left leg was quite simply torn to shreads. Another seemed to unfold, replacing it.
The head lifted again, and the orb seemed to extend outwards, shields unfolding and surrounding it. The head ducked back in, then came up around shoulders that reshaped themselves in a triangular way. Excess sections flowed backwards, and part of its back extended outwards and downwards to form a spiked tail. The orb began to glow.
"I see you're all trademark with those Special Moves!" came Cid's voice as the Highwind descended for another volley, trying to spin the thing in a different direction. Undaunted, it moved its shoulders, sending the Airship spinning backwards, its occupants grabbing for handholds.
"Oh, no," gasped Cloud. "Priscilla."
The leg and tail descended towards him, and he prepared to cast an Ultimate End. The tail swerved, just skimming his Materia with enough force to cause the Spell's Strength to be channeled off, and a huge ray was unleashed, smashing into the ground. The earth built up, pushed upwards, then exploded outwards, the beam knocking into Nanaki with full force.
He seemed to be screaming something, but it was cut off over the din of the blast, which exploded behind him. Cloud let out a sigh as he saw his friend was glowing. He'd forgotten the warrior knew exactly when to initiate Limit Breaks, thus preventing annihilation. He was swatted at
and the Pearl Weapon's right arm and shoulder were taken clean off. More sections settled into place, as all the shoulders and legs extended, growing larger. Missiles were launched, shattered by the blast Red XIII unleashed as he finished up Cosmo Memory's Activation Sequence.
Another volley erupted once Pearl Weapon finished changing form, this time to be blasted out of the air by several Bolt 3s, enough to make his Lightning Materia begin to dim. The WEAPON lashed at Nanaki's collar, attempting to disable his Materia as well, and again the Highwind came to the rescue, turrets flipping off the wings and sending large Smoke Shots into the things head. It staggered again, and another well placed Bolt 3 sent the thing toppling again, even as it sent Energy Blasts into the sky which proceeded to send small Meteors falling around the battlefield.
Its whole outer armor fell, and sections of the beast reared up, smaller orbs opening. It seemed to increase in size, its legs, arms, hands, feet, and tail expanded, while any excess parts flowed together into shields. The head was still at the top of the body, shoulders nearby, with horns, and a menacing look, but the whole rest of the huge beast had seemed to transform.
The Highwind was nowhere in sight, but shimmered back into existence as soon as a Tera Flare descended upon the huge beast. They'd finally gotten close enough to use their own Materias. Having escaped further damage, except for a few burns by one of the close Eenrgy-Meteors as it descended near them, Cloud was holding Tifa in a protective position, sword raised in case any limbs of the beast came nearby.
The Airship circled Pearl Weapon, shimmering out of existence as the thing attempted to lash at it, repeating the procedure. Any other Summon Materias were activated, except Shiva, which Tifa held, Phoenix and Knights of the Round, held by Cloud, and Titan and Ifreet, held by Red XIII. It began powering up its Quintet Orbs, and Cloud reached for his PHS to warn his friends.
The punch came, and he found himself flying backwards, still holding onto Tifa, crashing into a group of trees knocked down in the battle.
Then the attack was unleashed from the center orb, a sweeping, horizontal, enormous ray of energy that circled around as the WEAPON spun, aiming in all directions, tearing apart whatever it touched. Cloud rolled himself into a nearby thicket, again evading a fatal blow by a hair's breadth as the beam sheared through the ground near him. The Highwind moved away, pushing engines to the limit, then spun.
The WEAPON had its attention divided between all its attackers, and had them pinpointed. Its tail swiped, arms spun, legs whirled, and Cloud was forced to flip backwards, landing on his neck, propped against a half-fallen tree, not able to move anymore. His strength was spent.
The Highwind made a few feeble attempts to launch attacks, even swoop, but they were all blocked, and it withdrew, their own safety threatened. As for Nanaki
as the beast's limbs came at him, he leapt onto one, tearing a cut in it, then threw himself backwards. He wasn't in the correct frame of mind to perform a Sled Fang, but could enter that position, and collided with the central orb of the thing. He released two Bolt 3s, probably the only ones he could use, before leaping backwards, tucking into a roll and landing with sore feet.
The first destroyed the Central Orb, and chest parts were sent flying. As one neared the head of the Pearl Weapon, the other Bolt 3 hit the same place, electrocuting the piece. With Magical Energies added to it, the neck was snapped. The Pearl Weapon unleashed one last, echoing, roar of agony, then began to flicker with energies. Nanaki bolted, jumping away from the explosion as it took place, the concussive blast sending immense shockwaves throughout the area. Cloud kept his head down, hoping they wouldn't touch him or Tifa
He had no idea how long he sat like that, trembling, holding onto Tifa, attempting to shield her from the shockwave. When she was lifted away he continued to clutch the air, locked in that position, barely aware he was being lifted up.
He blacked out, but not completely. He was still semi-conscious.
"I suggest we hurry back to the Highwind," said Red XIII. "The Shinra may have gone back for reinforcements, but considering the amount of time it took to find these two, I suggest we move back to the Airship, and quickly."
Vincent was carrying him, Yuffie was carrying Tifa without protest. His arms and legs had sagged into a weak position, so sore. Only the Emerald Weapon and the Ruby Weapon had put up this good of a fight, Jenova-SYNTHESIS had, as had Sephiroth, but they had been anticipating those encounters, preparing for them.
"Is Tifa all right?" he managed to whisper.
"She's fine," answered Vincent, a small smile forming.
"Good," said Cloud. He slipped completely into unconsciousness, this time with a relaxed, peaceful smile on his face.
His newest dream was another confusing one.
He stood in utter blackness, facing what he now knew to be the part of his spirit that had resisted Jenova's False Memories.
"You kept your promise," it stated. "This wasn't just a simple pull-her-away-from-a-dangerous-drop, she was in real danger, and was rescued. And this time its wasn't even late." The Young Cloud smiled. "Good job."
Cloud grinned, then a question occurred to him. "Why are you still a separate spirit from me?"
"I'm part of you, but because of your False Memories I can still become separate, in a way," the boy continued. "I separate, yet I'm not really here." He shook his head, letting out an exasperated sigh. "Its too complex to explain."
"I see," answered Cloud. "I get your point."
"You do?" The boy looked confused. "That's something I had never expected to hear from you, of all people!"
The Young Cloud grinned, then faded away
and light poured into his eyes, along with the taste of Emergency Food.
He moaned, realizing he was in a Hospital Bed. "W-What?"
"You're awake!" cried Tifa.
He moved himself into a sitting position. "I think so."
That's when he noticed her left arm. It was bound in a carry-cast hooked over her left shoulder."
"Your arm!" he gasped.
"Its just a typical broken arm," she answered. "It'll mend."
"I hope so," he replied. She smiled in return.
"What about the Shinra?" he asked.
"They're gathering. A Surface Group has been gathered. Cid, Barret, and Red XIII are going to Gongaga, since we're both out of the picture."
Cloud swung his legs out over the bed, standing up. "I'm not," he said, for the first time noticing no one else was in the room. That meant a Makeshift Wall had been prepped in the Emergency Room, and Priscilla was in the other room.
Which meant his talking hadn't disturbed her.
As he was about to leave, he felt a light hand on his shoulder. He turned.
"Thanks," Tifa said, smiling again ,"For saving me back there!"
He smiled in return, and they held that gaze for a moment. He broke it quietly, turned, and left the room with a lighter heart.
The Gongaga Jungle was infested with Prototype Shinra Mutations. Kamaira Bugs, Flower Prongs, and Touch Mes roamed the area, the latter a type of dangerous creature that also roamed the areas outside of the jungle. Because of the Gagighandis and Grandhorns were occasionally sighted roaming the area, Grandhorns were the only type of Shinra Mutation allowed to roam free.
"I still say you should've stayed back on the ship!" snapped Barret.
"Forget it," answered Cloud. They swerved northwest at the first turn in the area. Aside from the occasional croaking of nearby threats, they seemed to have evolved to the point where only the rare ones would venture out of the Tree Coverings. This was closer to a town than most Mutations or Dangerous Creatures dwelled.
"Circle around Gongaga, then head northwest out into the Lifestream-Less Plain." Cloud's next instruction came as clear as the others, and they moved around, still at a quick pace. Cid had been unwilling to set the Highwind down on the plain, so it was a race to see if they could elude the Shinra.
"What exactly happened at the Reactor here?"
"11 years ago the Reactor malfunctioned and shut down. The people began to grow weary of it, and were unprepared for the large explosion 3 years ago. The whole thing collapsed on itself, and the people here completely abandoned technology."
"Small town," he mused.
"The few that chose to stay set up shops in their own houses. Others, whose children had left for Midgar long ago, stayed, not to leave them wandering around." He veered north, towards the plain, with the others following.
"Sprint!" he snapped. "We don't need to be caught in the open."
His companions complied, and they broke into a dash across the plain. He had his sword at the ready, scanning for Heavy Tanks, a monstrous combination of technology and biology. Those things were large, and dangerous.
"Incoming Shinra!" snapped Red XIII.
Barret glanced up, noticing the helicopters descending towards the edge of the area. Sonic Speeds, also known as Wyverns, some of the same beasts that had attacked Condor Fort, manufactured at Nibleheim, floated to a position above the ground. Heavy Tanks began to crawl towards the area, interested, and the trio managed to throw themselves into the safety of the Reactor, hiding behind a piece of jagged metal, as they watched the others land.
Shinra Attack Squads leapt from Helicopters, gunning down the nearby Heavy Tanks, followed by Kyurbinus. They moved into battle formation, the same one at least one of his friends, or himself, had witnessed the seven times they had battled at Condor Fort. The Sonic Speeds moved around them, and a Commander Grandhorn followed in suit.
"What I wouldn't give to be a temporary head of the Condor Fort Attack Squad," he said to himself.
Sure, their Stoners and Tristoners took a while to set up, and this was no downhill battlefield, but it was large, not as much, but probably hard enough. Their Defender Class, Attacker Class, and Fighter Class had disadvantages, but hidden in the Reactor, Shooter Classes could easily gun down their opponents. Catapults and Fire Catapults could be erected in the trenches, Shooters could hide there and defend it until they were erected. With evenly distributed Repairer Classes, Physicians, in other words, and Worker Classes erecting traps, things could actually work in their favor.
Of course, the Condor Fort Attack Squad had suffered enough, they wouldn't desire anymore fighting.
"Yo', Cloud, come on!" snapped Barret in a whisper. Cloud jolted up, and followed his companions as they bolted for the Reactor. Something else was settling overhead, a floating battleship.
Heavy Tanks moved towards it, ignoring the trio making their way towards the center of the Reactor. The machine's legs extended towards the ground, touching with a 'thud.' Its propellers snapped shut, and the thing, which actually looked like an arsenal of armor wielded by two Shinra SOLDIERS, Class-Green, began to stride forward. It was twice the height of the Reactor.
"Careful!" shouted a voice. "It took us since the construction of Midgar to get these ancient mechanical things working. These Guardians were set up to resist all forms of Magic, and since such a thing doesn't exit, we can hope it'll be shielded from Mako Magic as well. Its Pure Lifestream Energy, but its not amplified, so we don't know the results! Weapons can't damage it, but if you damage the controls !"
From inside the Clear Diamond-Dome Roofs the two SOLDIERS nodded.
"Remember!" snapped the leader. "Burrow straight down through the Reactor and deal with this menace. The rest of you, spread out in case any other WEAPON shows up!"
The Mutants and SOLDIERS did as instructed.
"Oh, boy!" gasped Barret. "We can't get spotted, so we'll have to enter the Reactor and crawl to one of those walls! It may be the only way we can hide!"
"I doubt it!" answered Cloud. "We'll have to crawl to it, out the back, and hide under the destroyed rooftop! Let's move!" Before the others could protest, he entered the area, wiggling through the destroyed pipes
and fell forwards with a shriek.
Cloud found himself falling down a large, carved shaft. Bits and pieces of jagged metal stuck out below him, parts of the Reactor, huge sections. Walkways, trains, destroyed robots. He'd been expecting a cave-in, but not one such as this. He was still falling.
The shaft curved, and he reached for a jagged piece of metal, but missed. The descent continued, area upon area nearby. He was hurtling at breakneck speed, terminal velocity, no doubt. He hadn't grabbed fast enough, and it felt like he had been falling through the sky. This wasn't a place where the Lifestream neared the surface of the Planet, so he'd meet it at the bottom of the Planet's Crust, no doubt. Meet it, and be conscious inside it.
As he glanced at other areas he could plainly see that something with immense powers had done this. A loose Shinra Mutation? No, that was impossible. Not even a Midgarsorm could have done this, and both of the beasts, Midgarsorm/Midgar Zorem, were lifeless in the swamps, their bodies still slithering. At least, the body of the one destroyed in the swamps was, the one Sephiroth had impaled could not move. None were a threat any longer.
He was reminded of both falls. When Jenova had been eliminated, and the section of the Lifestream they were on opened up, blasting apart, causing them to fall down, through the Crust, through the two evenly-spaced, huge pieces of the Planet, then through the Inner Core, into the Core itself, undaunted by the heat, traveling with the Lifestream, protected inside the very center of the Planet as they had faced Sephiroth. Then his return, through the twelve elements, when he'd faced Sephiroth in the very center of the trap which held Holy.
A green light showed, and he realized he was near the Lifestream again. Only it was shining with the same strange pulsations it had given off as bits and pieces of Holy tried to burst free from the pillar that held it, and the Promised Land, when Sephiroth had held it captive. Something else was in the Lifestream.
He grabbed onto another jagged piece of metal, sticking out, hovering right over the Lifestream below him, his arms nearly snapping. There was something about how the velocity of grabbing onto something wasn't as great as an actual landing, unfortunately, he couldn't recall what. He was alive, but his arms felt like they had nearly been ripped out of their sockets.
How long he'd hang here, he had no idea. How long he could, he didn't know, either. All he knew was that if he remained like this too long, the Shinra RoboGuard would burrow down, and that could be the end of his life.
"What in the world?" gasped Nanaki.
Green bits of light were shooting out of the hole that Cloud had fallen through.
"I dunno'," answered Barret.
"The the Lifestream," the other gasped. "I didn't know it came close to the surface of the Planet here."
"So what do we do?" asked Barret.
"The only thing we can do," answered Nanaki. "Climb down and follow."
"Where?" asked Barret.
"Over there." Red XIII's right forepaw pointed to a group of collapsed walkways. Their railings formed a way down. As he watched the forepaw circle, he could see what could be used as a climbing area around the center.
"You think we can get down THAT fast enough to elude the Shinra!?" gasped Barret. "You've gotta be kidding!?"
"I reckon we've got ten minutes!" retorted Red XIII. "And it looks like some form of the Mutations here are still active! Let's hurry!"
"Ten minutes!?" gasped Barret.
"I can run that fast at my limit!" snapped Nanaki. "Just go hide under the woodwork section in the back of the Reactor! I've just realized you probably wouldn't make it! Now move!"
Red XIII leapt across the gap, and Barret swore, clambering across the area and moving out through the other side, then hurrying to a hiding place under the woodwork of the Outer Reactor.
"Time to move!" gasped the 'Once-Research-Specimen.' He hurtled himself around the same walkway as Barret, deftly leaping from area to area. A Proto MachineGun charged forwards, and he ripped the thing apart with his claws, running down the sides. Other destroyed things, mainly 1st Rays and Sweepers, attacked, and he dodged, kicking some apart, moving down, swinging from cable to cable, making optimum use of his abilities.
A Sweeper lost its balance from above and collapsed on him, he lashed upwards, tearing it apart, and noticed the area had begun to rumble. Working RoboGuards and Non-Working RoboGuards were beginning to tumble. It was obviously a rare occurrence that others fell down this newly-made shaft.
He began to hurry on, now having to waste precious time by dodging backwards, having to regain his footing at points as he nearly fell over the edge of the destroyed Reactor at times. This was going to be a pain.
Up above, the Guardian was in position, its propellers and whirling drills, which had never been on the old model, still kicking up dust.
"Downward DRILL!!!!!" snapped the driver. The other complied, bringing the drills to the fore of the enormous machine and heading downwards. Bits and pieces of the Reactor began to be thrown out of the area, while the Mutation Attack Squad and Human Attack Squad kept the Heavy Tanks away from the area. A few of the Shinra AirForce backed the air, the other half of the AirForce that was in the area watched for approaching WEAPONS.
"Oh, NO!" gasped Barret. "Freakin' Shinra!!!!!" He was about to leap out and start gunning for the Guardian when a piece of shrapnel slammed into his exit. He swore and frantically began to look around for another one.
"Oh no!" cried Tifa, watching from above, out of range of the Shinra AirForce, as was the whole Airship. "Cloud!!!!!"
"Cait Sith, get Priscilla and her father away from the village!" snapped Cid, immediately taking charge of the situation. "I have a feeling something's gonna' blow, and it may damage the village. Get your boss to start a rescue crew from the village! I'm taking the Airship down to save our friends as soon as you're clear!"
Cait Sith saluted and raced below deck, followed by Vincent and Yuffie, who was finally taking into account the lesson Cloud had given her on not becoming AirSick. She made a snatch for one of the cat's Materias, and he slammed her on the right arm, the one that was grasping for it, with his Megaphone.
Red XIII heard an ominous roaring sound coming from above, and looked up. The Guardian was coming down, making short work of what was in its way. No he had to race the machine and the time he estimated the thing would be at the bottom. Hoping no one knew he was here, and his Magic Materia dimmed, he refrained from casting any Spell or Summon Beast up at the Juggernaut.
"This may get ugly!" he gritted, resuming his dash, heading even farther into the depths of the Planet. The Makoro Walls were obviously keeping out the pressure and the heat, which he could be thankful for. Right now he had to be below the Lowest-Known Area of the Ocean, well, at least, in measuring, since the Ocean wasn't anywhere nearby.
"Evacuate!" shouted Reeve, bursting into Gongaga. The frightened citizens were in a panic, arming, he had seen people already leaving. "This place will probably blow in around five minutes! Get out of here!"
No one noticed who was speaking. All it took was one clear mind to shatter the panic, and give birth to reason. The townspeople bolted for the exit of the town, at least, pausing to grab their belongings. All of the houses were evacuated, because no one really had much in their houses
He raced towards the house in the southeast.
Cait Sith, carrying Priscilla's Father, who was in turn carrying Priscilla, had been set down in a thicket far away from the area. The plans had changed, Yuffie and Vincent had been ordered to guard the jungle pathways, aiding in the evacuation.
"Later!" shouted Cid, veering the Highwind upwards, towards the village.
"Hey!" snapped Reeve, bursting into the house, noticing two adults gathering up pictures and other belongings. "There may not be time for that! Come on!"
"But our son-!" began the male.
"I think he'd much rather have his parents alive than pictures of him there! This place could blow any second! Please!"
"But-!" gasped the female. She began to grab other belongings.
"Come ON!" snapped Reeve, grabbing her as she had a picture half-in her hand. The picture slipped free, she stumbled for it, and picked it up just before it crashed to the floor and shattered.
"Okay, I'll help gather up the stuff, but when I say we're out of time, I mean it!" The male's look changed from anger to bewilderment, but he snapped out of it and started pointing to things he could use a helping hand in.
"Okay!" shouted Cid, moving the Highwind in position. "Going down!"
He veered the Airship downwards, opening fire. The Shinra scattered momentarily, but orders were barked around seconds after the dive. Sonic Speeds and AirForce Members swooped upwards, while gunfire opened.
Cid punched in a special code on one of the Turret Controls. The back of the ship flipped open, revealing a large turret, which automatically fired, launching an enormous missile right into the middle of the large field.
It went off with a large thunderclap, the shockwave scattering part of the AirForce Members, most of the Sonic Speeds being torn to shreds, the other ones landing on the ground, wounded. He moved the Highwind towards the Reactor.
Barret finally managed to move a portion of the Reactor out of the way, climbing up to safety. He scanned the area for the Guardian, and when he didn't find it, swore, and began climbing towards the center of the Reactor, hoping to blast the thing from above with a Bahamut ZERO.
A Heavy Tank roared and charged into him, slamming him headfirst into a large scrap pile, crying ,"What the fr-!"
He tore himself out, spun, and glared at the Mutation. "Darn freakin' piece of junk! Get out of my way!" He opened fire with his Missing Score. The thing roared, then charged again, veering up kicking his gun arm with its treads.
"Arrgghh!" he gasped. He retaliated by opening fire at Max Power, blasting parts of the thing to pieces. It began to crackle, but succeeded in slapping him back into the junk-pile he had just crawled out of. He crashed through, ending up outside the Reactor, noticing that the impact had started to cause the area above to slide downwards. Ignoring his aching body, he swore again and began to limp-run away.
The Heavy Tank exploded at that moment, too.
"That's it!" shouted Reeve, shoving a small glove into a knapsack and hoisting it over his shoulder, as the couple did the same. "We are out of here!"
The other two nodded, and they raced out, circling around the area. There were about to cross into the jungle when the lady gasped.
"I forgot the small picture of Zack as a baby!" she dropped the bags she was carrying and raced back towards the house.
Reeve swore and followed again. The female had thirty seconds to find that picture, or he'd drag her out of the village.
"The Highwind can't take much more of this!" gasped Cid. The Shinra AirForce had managed to keep them away from the Reactor itself, and they were now north of it. They noticed a familiar figure below, and swooped down.
Barret, who had collapsed inches away from where a huge piece of rubble was about to collapse, gathered his strength for a jump, and hooked onto the side of the Airship with his hands. Cid yanked him aboard.
"Where's Cloud and Red XIII!?" gasped Cid, spinning the Highwind away from another group of Shinra AirForce.
"Below the Guardian," Barret stated, before blacking out.
Tifa's hands flew to her mouth, and she gasped. "No!!!!!"
Reeve and the female burst from the house, racing towards the exit from Gongaga. Nearby, destroyed Shinra AirForce had put sections of the jungle around the Reactor on fire.
"Duck!" he shouted, shoving the female to the ground and collapsing himself as a Shinra AirForce careened overhead, only to crash into the trees on the other side of the jungle path and explode.
He stood up, and helped the lady do so. "We're out of here!"
Nanaki, still busy dodging debris falling from the Guardian, collapsing RoboGuards, and attacking RoboGuards, while destroying some of them, could clearly see a green glow below him now. He picked up his pace.
Up above, faint rumbles could be heard, higher than from where the Guardian was. Something had assaulted the Shinra, and it was either a whole group of Heavy Tanks, the Highwind, or, the worst possibility, a WEAPON.
"We have to do something!" pleaded Tifa.
Cid and the Crewmen were concentrating on the turrets, and had managed to ground most of the AirForce. Only a few remained, and Cid was closing up the Special Cannon, activating his Lightning Materia, on Bolt 3.
The few remaining AirForce Members fell to the wastelands below, exploding.
"Please!" Tifa shouted this as loud as she could.
The Highwind began to crackle with energy, losing altitude.
"Sorry!" gasped Cid. "She's been hit to hard, we're gonna' have to bring her out of here or risk perishing!" He spun the Airship, and as Tifa collapsed to the deck, not sobbing, refusing to let it start again, she once again experienced the feeling of the universe just coming to an end.
How fast a body could move in an emergency was perfectly demonstrated as Reeve and the two parents burst out of the jungle at top speed, ignoring the weight of the bags they were carrying. They barreled southward, straining their bodies to the limits. The Ex-Shinra Member wished he'd sent Cait Sith in for this job.
Too late now, though. He continued to run.
Red XIII watched the pieces of another Sweeper fall into the gap below, sighting something, a small speck, just below him. In the light the figure's features were unmistakable.
The area shook, and he nearly fell of the makeshift-ledge.
"Hang on, Cloud!" he called. "I'm coming!"
Reeve burst into the group of townspeople, the two married adults behind him. He slowed, dropped what he was carrying, and sank down against a tree, gasping for breath. The other two did the same.
"Anyone missing!" shouted Vincent.
"These were the only remaining villagers," gasped Reeve.
"Phew," said Yuffie. "At least that's done."
A screech-roar could be heard in the air, and a large shape descended towards Gongaga, a red orb attached to its midsection.
"Or maybe not."
Nothing else was falling from above.
What had started it, Cloud didn't know. He could hear the rumbling, though, just as much as his arms were getting sore.
"What is going on?" he grunted.
Any other time he would probably have allowed himself to fall backwards into the Lifestream, expecting to wash up somewhere else. And since there weren't any explosions of Mako Energies nearby, he might not get Mako Poisoning.
Still, he doubted that someone fully conscious could survive in Pure Spirit Energy. In the Subconscious-Like State below Mideel, just a bit of those voices had nearly torn apart his body, what would all of them do? The second time in the Lifestream, the voices nearly had torn him apart, the same for Tifa, and the third time in the Lifestream, he'd really only been in it in a dreamlike way.
Most importantly, though, there was something ominous about this section of the Lifestream. Its Spirit Energy just didn't seem right.
Unfortunately, he could hold on to the jagged piece of metal no longer. His position with Tifa, in falling down wherever it was convenient, had been reversed.
His arms finally slipped loose, and he fell backwards with a cry
Up above, the Highwind came to a screeching crash on the ground
the Gongaga Villagers, Yuffie, Vincent, Cait Sith, and Reeve, huddled farther into the thicket
the Topaz Weapon screamed out, sensing disaster
the Guardian was almost at the bottom of the shaft, and had noticed two beings on its sensors, so its workers complied, placing its weaponry on
the Shinra Mutations, Attack Squads, and Shinra Pilots that had escaped from the attack by the Highwind grouped together
the Heavy Tanks finally figured out to stay clear of the Reactor and the area the Shinra Group was in, leaving them alone
and Red XIII, the Warrior Nanaki, reached the bottom of the shaft.
::END TIMED SEQUENCE::
Cloud's body suddenly stopped in the middle of falling as something bit down on his glove, hard.
He looked up. "N...Nanaki?" he asked, not believing that Red XIII was actually standing on the section above the jagged piece of metal jutting out. The creature nodded in reply, pulling backwards, dragging Cloud upwards.
The Ex-Shinra found a firm handhold, and helped his friend pull him the rest of the way. Nanaki released him, and sat back, gasping. "I knew that my species was able to run this fast, but I never knew how tiring it would be?"
"So now we get out?" asked Cloud.
"That may be hard," Red XIII answered, pointing upwards. "Look!"
Cloud did, and gasped.
Coming down towards them was an enormous, silvery machine. Parts of it were recognizable as ancient devices, unearthed by the Shinra. The huge machine, along with its three smaller counterparts, had been under reconstruction while he had been in Midgar, attempting to join SOLDIER. It was working now, and was obviously reoutfitted.
Instead of a device the height of the Proud Clod, driven by two humans under Clear Diamond Domes, with huge feet, incredible weaponry and armor, and enormous arms, the thing now had partially-viewable propellers below it. They were spinning slowly as it descended, and other sections were attached to it. Advanced weaponry, instead of the ancient weaponry it had possessed when Professor Gast discovered it. Claw-like arms, and drills, circled out from its main arms.
The thing was a walking Armaggeddon.
"Guardian," stated Cloud, his mouth hanging. "An ancient device from around 500-Years-Ago, serving as a mechanical watchdog for the Vectorian Empire. There were four of it, a small one that patrolled Outer Vector, a large one, the one we see, that was in constant watch of the Vector Palace, and three that were driven by Vector Soldiers, which was the size of the one that patrolled the Vector City, but Manually Controlled. Each was built to be impenetrable by all weaponry, even by what was deemed 'Magic' at that period in time."
"What happened to the AI One?" asked Red XIII, staring in awe at the device, as was Cloud.
"Destroyed, probably," he answered. "At that point in time, a huge crisis befell the Planet, according to records, most of them taken from the databanks of the four Guardians. Either the four still working now survived, while the other didn't, or it did, and was somehow destroyed. According to its design specifications, only Pure Magic, Ultima Magic, which didn't exist, might have a power level that could damage it, once damaged, other things could be able to effect it. The Ultima Materia Casts is not Pure 'Magic' whatever that is. Either that, or the aura of an Ancient Being that didn't exist. Those things were referred to as 'Esper.' Just the aura of a transferred spell of a High-Level Esper would work, but the Vectorians weren't worried, none strong enough existed in the world. That's all I was ever able to understand about these things."
"If we find an incline and smash the propellers, it might fall into the Lifestream and be demolished by the Planet."
"The Shinra took so long in reconstructing this thing, not only because of its complexity, but because their add-ons were designed to be as strong as the original. We can get ready to fight, because I think its ready!"
His eyes widened. "Look out!"...
...and the Guardian blasted enormous Laser Beams out of its forearms.
Cloud dodged to the side of the ledge, sending an Ultima up at it. The Spell ran its course, but the machine was unaffected. All types of Shinra Lasers focused and blasted downwards, sending Red XIII falling backwards.
He responded with his usual Timed Cosmo Memory, also moving the jump so he wouldn't fall into the Lifestream. The blast of energies didn't even put a scratch in the enormous machine. It moved its Drill Arms towards its opponents, swiping at them. Cloud slashed at it, his blade simply bounced off, and he was nearly crushed by the impact of one of the arms.
A claw grabbed Red XIII, and as he scratched at it, also failing to dent it, a Laser Beam focused on him. Cloud released Shield Energies from his Materia, noticing that this close to Pure Lifestream Energy the Materia didn't even flicker. Both of them were covered, and he followed up with a Regen, then a Cure 3.
The Guardian blasted at his Materia. He moved the blade behind him and allowed his body to take the full blow, hoping the Pure Lifestream Energies would prevent both Shields from going down. He let loose with an Ultimate End, and watched as the thing activated some sort of absorvation mechanism. It nullified the spell, and he realized back then the thing must've had something that could nullify whatever form of Summon Magics existed in its period.
Red XIII struggled free, and Cloud channeled Ultima at the two drivers. The Ultimas didn't work their way into the device, and the thing lashed all arm attachments down at him, knocking his sword onto the metal, shattering his Shield, and proceeded to do the same to Nanaki.
Down below, their was a roar of agony, and the whole Lifestream became white. He remembered what he had been told about Holy. It would eliminate all threats to the Planet, and there seemed to be a serious reason the Guardian couldn't be allowed in the Lifestream. That meant that all that had to be done was Holy had to be cast, and it would continue to protect the Planet when needed.
As what would be the finishing blows for both of them descended, he realized Holy wasn't coming, someone...or something, was absorbing it.
Time seemed to shatter at that moment...
...Holy had started to move again, of that much Aeris was certain. It wasn't until she realized that an outside source was absorbing it that she realized that whatever had been causing tumult in the Lifestream, at the edges of her perception, was now absorbing its powers into its body.
The whole Planet seemed to howl in agony, and she began to concentrate. Whatever it was was enormous, below Gongaga, and a large machine was above it. A huge machine, actually, with the Shinra Logo, but something else was about it, too.
Holy could not be allowed to be absorbed into this being, the Planet was telling her this directly. She could try to cast it with her essence again, but doing so might mean whenever Holy needed to be used, someone would have to re-cast it.
It was a chance that she had to take.
She assumed an kneeling position, clasped her hands, and began to pray.
"What?" gasped Cloud, as he realized they were both still alive, the Guardian's Weaponry, its arm-parts withdrawn, full attention focused on what was absrobing Holy.
"That's its target," whispered Red XIII, realization coming to him.
"You mean..." Cloud's mouth dropped again.
"It obviously didn't realize we were no threats, so initiated an attack on us."
That's when the full realization of what was happening hit Cloud like a boulder.
"Into an incline, NOW!" He grabbed Red XIII and hurled himself into a crack in the area that might be able to support them. It did, but only barely. He realized this wouldn't be enough, his luck would run out shortly, he couldn't keep being this lucky, but he still hoped for survival...
...Roaring, the beast burst free of the Lifestream.
"That's the target, nail it, NOW!" barked the Shinra Pilot, not even pausing to look over its features.
The other complied, and a group of missiles were loosed at the thing, followed by Concentrated Lasers, Grenades, Arm Swipes, whatever might be useful. As soon as they were released the machine began to repower for further blasts.
The attacks hit the monster almost immediately, and it shrieked in pain. A black-clawed hand raised, claws attached to its wrists, strange energies that had never before been seen crackling around it.
It screamed out something strange.
'What the blazes is Merton?' wondered the pilot, opening fire at the gaping wound their blasts had left.
His question was immediately answered as incredbile waves of heat and energies blasted into the machine, pulsating, tearing apart the very heat and compining it into Nuclear Energies. Missiles and beams dissipated, and the Guardian actually rocked, its defense systems shaking, but remaining. This thing had never been meant for movement, that's why more defenses could be added to it, Shinra had changed that. However the beast had cast Pure Magic, it wouldn't have much of an effect on the machine, neither would its aura, if it had one.
The backwash of energies was healing the creature, too, meaning it was Elemental. Hopefully only of the Flame-Type, though. More shots were released, tearing into the thing again. It shrieked, its other arm swiping at the Guardian. When its claws glanced harmlessly off it, the thing unleashed Pure, but Warped, Lifestream Energy at its mechanical opponent. The shields shook, and their power levels began to go down very quickly.
"Start Pumping Shield Power!" snapped the Pilot. The other complied, lashing out and catching the beast under one of its arms. Its claws grappled with the thing's black fur, bashing in one of its Chest-Faces, its largest one. The thing shrieked again, and whirled, its multi-limbed Legs and Low-Down Scorpion Incisors flinging the thing towards the Lifestream. The Guardian tumbled, quickly regaining control, and lashed upwards again, in the form of an uppercut, releasing blasts from the High-Up Left Arm. The thing screamed again, channeling what both had now deduced to be Real Magic at the Guardian, Ultimas and Mertons piling on it, the latter healing the beast's wounds.
If the thing could use Magic, it had to have disrupted Universal Laws, meaning...
"Aim Apocalypse Beam!" he snapped through the intercom. "That thing's got Pure Magic, meaning it may have control over forces we can only imagine!"
The chest opened, and something unfolded out, moving the other turrets. It began to power up.
Down in the incline Nanaki looked at Cloud worriedly, the Regen that was preventing the Mertons and Ultimas from destroying them beginning to wear off.
"If you've got any ideas, I'd use them now!"
Cloud looked up at the tiny crack along the outside of the area, and grinned.
"Can I ride on you?" he asked his friend.
"Sure," he said. "Although I consider it embarrassing, now's not the time for me to consider it that! What's the plan!"
Cloud indicated the crack. "I'm using Mini," he said. "As soon as you're small, you're carrying us in there. Its still inside the Reactor so the Planet Heat won't get us, and there are enough cracks in the Reactor that we should be able to escape, although we may have to go outside it for a while!"
Red XIII nodded. "Let's do it! Its crazy enough to work!"
The Battle of the Behemoths continued. As the Apocalypse Beam began to power up, the enormous creature they were facing did indeed begin to channel strange beams of light. The shields began to buckle again, and the creature kept using Mertons to heal itself, while damaging their shields. As if that wasn't enough, it had proceeded to use a Regen, which could make this battle even more aggravating.
A claw came down into one of the unshielded spots. That section was shoved together, and a strange ripple washed over it. Realizing the thing had just used some sort of Summon Spell, they negated it in time to prevent being crushed between an Ultra Comet, a Light Ray, a Radiation Beam, and a Supernova, all four stages of that strange Summon Spell being shown, and a Meteor exactly the type Sephiroth had summoned. They activated the absorbtion, and charged forward at the confused thing, tearing into it, doing more damage than a Regen or a Merton Backwash could heal within a short amount of time, it would take hours.
Hours the Shinra weren't going to give the thing.
The Guardian tore into the wound, and its pilot concentrated all hand controls on the Shields and the Apocalypse Beam, letting the AI of the WarMech do the rest. Their opponent finally began to result to physical strength, and both things began to pound on one another.
Up above, the thing came.
Roaring with malice, it dove for the Reactor.
"Oh, drat!" swore Cid. From the sounds of what was gonig on below the surface, if the WEAPON made it that far, the whole section of the continent might erupt. He turned to the Highwind. "Sorry, old girl. I don't know if any Emergency Levers will even work, and if they do, if they'll save you. I built you to last, but..."
He swore again and kicked in the auxiliary power. Tifa looked up as the thing charged right towards the Topaz Weapon.
"Get ready for two in one day!" shouted Cid, moving away so the Top Pilot could take his place. He flew the Highwind straight towards the Topaz Weapon, which had torn through all of the Flying Shinra Mutations as they attacked it, and had paused in mid-dive, shrieking in annoyance at the gunfire that was nailing it.
The Highwind, barely floating, was moved into place.
"Ready!" snapped Cid.
Tifa nodded, using one of their Elixirs on her broken arm so it might be able to work, at least for a half-hour or so.
"Then let's move!"
The Gunners opened fire on the beast, and Cid cast a Fire 3
The thing placed up a shield similar to the one Sephiroth had placed over the North Crater. The Guardian began to hammer on it, realizing the Apocalypse Beam might not work now, it would probably just break the barrier.
"Wait a minute!" Came the Gunner's voice. "It took the Sister Ray to take down Sephiroth's Barrier, because we didn't want to do it too close, not wanting to take damage from him unless we were in front of him with the Gelnika Weapons! We never realized the full potential of Sephiroth's Summon Spells!"
"We absorbed those things into us, we may survive-" the next part came out sharply ,"-but the Shields won't."
As if on cue, the whole shielding system shattered, and most of the outer section of the Guardian. The Juggernaut was flung into the wall of the Reactor, and its opponent flashed a many-toothed grin, closing in to finish off its opponent.
The Apocalypse Beam fired, destroying the thing's shield, and stunning it for a moment. It blinked, letting out another shriek of agony.
"Sephiroth had the Shield over the Crater!" the Gunner said, grinning. "He couldn't put one over his body!" He switched the controls over to manual. They were up close to one of the thing's gaping wounds, their blasts could destroy it.
The arms came down on the thing's skin, the normal blasts were fired as the Apocalypse Beam Turret closed. The thing shrieked, maybe regretting it hadn't continued its burrowing, had choosed to face the threat that had come to it, or had absorbed the last of the energies it was trying to get this fast.
Whatever its thoughts were, all that registered was another shriek of pain. The thing began to glow white.
"That thing's going to fire a Pillar-Discus!" gasped the Gunner.
The Pilot responded by grabbing the thing's throat with manual controls only he knew how to use with the arms. It was desperate, but he wasn't waiting until the mortal wound took effect. It might be too late then. He just used the arms to snap the thing's neck in an instant.
Or tried to, anyway. The Pillar was blasted out, through the chest of the Guardian, then, finding it couldn't penetrate the small Auxiliary Shields, transformed into a Discus and began tearing through circuitry. The Auxiliary Shields spread, took the rest of the damage, then smashing the thing, with a Half-Crushed Windpipe, down towards the Lifestream. It slammed into it with a large splash
"I say we make sure that thing's gone," said the Pilot.
"Do you think the Guardian can take it?" was the response.
"I hope so, because if the beast is still alive and we wait for reinforcements, its healing could be completed!"
"Then let's move!"
The Guardian descended into the Lifestream.
The creature struggled for life.
It hadn't expected all the energies it sought to come to it faster than it had expected, now it had lost. But it had technology, that's what prevented its neck from being snapped, its heart from being destroyed. Something, the last thing he had attempted to absorb, was beginning to flow through the Lifestream, tearing through him like a fountain cleansing the Planet's wounds.
In a fury, he blasted out laser beams and missiles of all densities and speeds, which struck the machine above him, tearing holes out of parts of its ripped-off armor. They failed to damage the Lifestream, and he felt like bits and pieces of him were being torn out. He gasped for breath, suffocating in this white energy, and sought the only way out he knew of.
He gathered his energies and blasted out of the hole, up into the air, away from this place. Escape was the only option now, he knew when to do it. He had that much knowledge. He didn't care that his trajectory led to an ominous portal in space, he would escape. Behind him, he felt the white energies settle into the Lifestream again, the machine turn in pursuit. But he was faster. He'd escape.
And then the blast from the machine impacted with him. He gave a final shriek, then tore out of the fissure like a living meteorite ascending into space, great cries of agony going with him.
The Topaz Weapon immediately proceeded to lash out with its tail, causing the Highwind to shudder. It blasted a large beam from its orb, biting down where Tifa stood. She deftly leapt away, chopping down at the thing's neck.
It screeched, turned to blast beams at the annoying Shinra Pests, causing them to race for cover. Some didn't make it to safety, though.
Cid spun the Highwind, nailing the thing with another Fire 3, and the back of the Airship flipped down. It began to fire at the thing, until the WEAPON just smashed it. Tifa leapt at the thing, wishing her Materia had been repaired by now, and punched it in the neck. She was backhanded, and fell to the deck. Once again she tumbled into the railing with enough force to make it crash out over the edge, half-suspended in midair. She was conscious this time, but still, too weak to move.
Realizing he couldn't spin the Highwind again, Cid moved into a dodging phase, blasting out Fire 3 after Fire 3 and Bolt 3 after Bolt 3 until his two Magic Materias had absolutely no glow in them whatsoever. The thing grabbed onto the side of the Highwind and wrenched off one of the railings, batting at Cid, still blasting beams back at the Shinra. Out of them, all the Mutations except for the Commander Grandhorn had perished, the rest
were either alive or weren't alive. He didn't know.
The railing connected with Cid, and he was flung backwards. He turned it into a flip, moved forward, and slammed his Venus Gospel into the thing's chest. It shrieked again, and as he withdrew it for another thrust, it spread its wings and began to move away, roaring in annoyance.
"Are all you flying WEAPONS cowards!" shouted Cid
but by now the thing had gained Maximum Speed and had begun to move away. It swooped down low, decapitating the Commander Grandhorn, then circled over the Reactor, and was about to move away
when the whole Gongaga Jungle, Reactor, Town, and Wasteland, burst outwards, then collapsed in on itself as a single form flew upwards, puncturing the Topaz Weapon as if it was paper, sending its pieces careening to the ground, where it, too, exploded. Cid grabbed Tifa, yanking her to safety, while the Pilot spun the thing away. Its tail engine, and its whole tail, was clipped off by the explosion.
The Highwind was sent into a spiral straight towards the Gold Saucer Area. Cid grabbed onto the stick with the Pilot, hoping he could at least bring the thing into some shape of landing, something that would save their lives.
It came down, screeching, tearing ruts in the area, finally settling near the entrance to Corel Valley.
And back at Gongaga, anyone, except for Cloud and Red XIII, climbing through the inside of the destroyed Reactor, below the Planet's surface, were probably torn apart. Like when the Sapphire Weapon rammed Junon, it could not be ascertained how many Shinra survived.
And up above, the figure continued into the sky, still screeching, moving like a small, yet destructive, comet
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